5 Countries Where You Don’t Want to Get Sick (and 5 Where You Don’t Need to Worry)

See recent posts by Margot Bigg

Getting sick while on vacation can be a huge pain. At best, an illness will keep you stuck resting in your hotel room instead of going out to check out attractions and experience a new culture. At worst, you may find yourself paying a lot of money for substandard healthcare, or being evacuated to a neighboring country. Here are five countries where you don’t want to get sick for various reasons, and five countries where getting sick, while never fun, might not be so bad. Pay attention to your travel health, and read on.

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Don’t Get Sick: China

While getting sick with a respiratory illness, like *Coronavirus, is already concerning, it’s worse when you risk getting quarantined — even having spent time in the Hubei Province can land you in up to 14 days of quarantine, at least if you’re entering the U.S. Current headlines aside, the country does have an advanced health care system in major cities. But as with many Asian countries, language barriers can be an issue. China is not the easiest place for those who don’t speak Chinese languages, particularly once you get outside of the larger tourist areas. The trade-off? Medical care is affordable and many Chinese hospitals have so-called VIP wards with English speaking doctors and upgraded medical facilities. Check the U.S. State Department’s medical provider’s list in China before getting care.

*Editor’s note: Coronavirus is a rapidly changing health risk situation, and travelers should monitor the news and CDC website before making travel plans. 

Don’t Worry: Costa Rica

One of the more popular spots in Latin America for U.S. medical tourists, Costa Rica is known for its high-quality health care, which is universally accessible to it citizens and residents and supported by the local social security: the CAJA. And even if you are just visiting, you can take advantage of the country’s extensive private healthcare system, which offers high-quality medical care for a fraction of what it would in the United States. Best of all, while Costa Rica is a Spanish-speaking country, many local doctors and other medical professionals speak excellent English, particularly those who work in the booming medical and dental tourism industry. As of 2016, medical tourism accounted for around $350 million in Costa Rica’s economy, with the vast majority of medical tourists coming from North America for dental work and cosmetic procedures. 

Our Costa Rica Hotel Pick: Nayara Springs – Relais & Chateau

If you’re looking to recoup in the lap of luxury, it’s hard to do better than Nayara Springs. It’s one of the most private resorts in Costa Rica, and the 16 adults-only rustic-luxe rooms have a bevy of free amenities (free minibar items, free laundry, free international calls) and gadgets (Bluetooth music players, espresso machines), all of which you pay for in the room rate. And breakfast is delivered to rooms, so you won’t have to go far to be pampered.

Don’t Get Sick: The United States

New York City at sunset from Freedom Tower
New York CIty; Laura Hinely/Oyster

The United States has some of the highest quality healthcare in the world: but there’s a huge catch. You need to have extensive health insurance coverage, a lot of money, or (preferably) both if you want to get the best treatment. If you live in the U.S. and have health insurance, you’ll generally have some level of out-of-pocket expense to incur. But if you’re visiting from elsewhere, start counting your lucky stars, or sign up for comprehensive travel insurance, preferably that includes no deductible and covers medical evacuation. Foreign visitors requiring hospital visits (or even basic medical appointments for minor injuries) can easily be footed with bills of hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Seriously. For a bigger emergency, it’s not unheard of for medical bills to run up into the tens of thousands. In other words, you may be better off just buying a plane ticket home.

Don’t Worry: The United Kingdom

More than just an ocean and a common language separate the U.S. and the U.K.: the healthcare systems are vastly different. While Americans pay private providers hundreds every month just to make sure they have the most basic coverage, healthcare in the United Kingdom is free and universal under the National Health System (NHS). You may have to pay a bit for dentistry or medicines, if you are earning an income and can afford it, but medicine is not out of reach for anyone. The system is far from perfect, and it’s certainly stretched thin, with long waiting times for routine procedures and staffing shortages in some areas. EU citizens who hold the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) should note that the card is valid through the end of 2020, but whether it will be valid after that is still under negotiation as Brexit gets sorted. That said, the quality of care is high and nobody is turned away because of income. And for foreign tourists? While you can’t land up in the U.K. and expect a free heart transplant, if you get sick or have an accident while on British soil, they’ll sort you out without making you shell over your entire holiday budget for the next decade. 

Our United Kingdom Hotel Pick: Georgian House

Originally built as a private residence in 1851, the Georgian House was converted to a luxury boutique bed and breakfast in 1950. The hotel offers 62 rooms with a mix of classic and modern styles, and is made of two adjoining houses: the Georgian House, where guests check in, and the Bower House, where guests enjoy fully furnished flats. A furnished flat is a good idea for the infirm, and full English breakfast is provided every morning.

Don’t Get Sick: The UAE

The UAE does an exceptional job of taking care of its own, with free healthcare for citizens — though foreign expats must obtain a health card and pay a fee. Programs vary from emirate to emirate, but the bottom line is that if you’re working in the country, you’ll generally be at least partially sorted out by your employer. However, if you’re a tourist, you’d better get yourself some travel insurance or at least remember to wash your hands and take your vitamins. While the quality of health care in the Emirates is fantastic, it’s not cheap. According to global health insurance company Aetna International, you can end up forking over a good AED 500 (US $136) just to visit the doctor.

Don’t Worry: Sweden

Few places do healthcare better than Sweden. Healthcare in the Nordic nation is decentralized, with each of the country’s county councils or municipal governments charged with managing the medical needs of their communities (although guidelines are set by the national government). Moreover, if someone needs to see a specialist, they’re guaranteed to get to do so within 90 days (and if no specialist is available in their area, the council will actually pay to send them elsewhere). And while residents naturally benefit the most from this well-managed and well-funded system, even tourists reap some of the rewards. If you fall ill on your trip, you can head to the doctor without worrying about going in to debt. While your final bill will be dependent on whether your country has universal healthcare and a reciprocal agreement with Sweden, your out-of-pocket costs will still be considerably low. 

Our Sweden Hotel Pick: Elite Eden Park Hotel

The Elite Eden Park Hotel is sleek and modern. It’s located right next to Stockholm’s lush Humlegarden Park and Stureplan square. The hotel has 124 bright and modern rooms spread over six floors, two restaurants, and a sauna — in case you want to do some wellness healing. All guests enjoy perks like free chocolates and cognac each evening, Penhaligon toiletries, and free Wi-Fi.

Don’t Get Sick: Sierra Leone

While Sierra Leone isn’t the most popular tourist destination, it makes this list because of its poor medical rankings. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Report 2000, which ranked the healthcare systems of 191 countries on a variety of performance indicators, the country’s attainment of goals scored lower than any other country. Their overall health system performance, which takes things like expenditure into account, wasn’t much better — only Armenia scored worse.

Don’t Worry: Turkey

Tourist, relax: if you encounter a true medical emergency in the country, Turkey’s continuously reforming and improving health coverage will have your back. According to the Prime Minister in 2016, everyone facing an emergency is entitled to free treatment, irrespective of whether they are a foreign tourist, a refugee, or a Turkish national/permanent resident. And if you have something more serious to deal with and want a cheaper alternative to what’s available in your home country, note that Turkey is also increasingly gaining popularity as a medical tourism destination.

Our Turkey Hotel Pick: Kempinski Hotel The Dome Belek

The Kempinski Hotel The Dome is a luxe chain property for golfers, beach lovers, and anyone looking to relax. Five restaurants — with seasonal hours — provide international fare and all-inclusive packages. A chic pool stretches 7,000 feet and has a swim-up bar. Elegant, simple rooms and one- and two-bedroom suites feature Seljuk designs and balconies, some with sea views. The spa offers indoor pools, a hamman, and a Thalasso pool for alternative therapies.

Don’t Get Sick: Japan


While healthcare in Japan isn’t as cheap as in some of the countries on this list, it’s still a very good value, especially if you’re coming from the U.S. Still, you’ll be expected to pay out of pocket if something happens (if you do have traveler’s insurance you can get costs reimbursed when you return home). However, while the costs are low and the quality of care is high, it’s not as perfect as it sounds. First of all, certain medicines are banned in Japan, including those that contain pseudoephedrine. While most people who have had a cold can attest, this stuff works better than anything else at calming sniffles. Unfortunately, pseudoephedrine is also used to make illegal drugs, which are a big no-no in the Land of the Rising Sun. Getting sick in Japan can also be a bit of a nuisance, particularly if you like knowing what’s going on. The reason? The language barriers can be big. This list of medical providers with English-speaking staff, courtesy of the Japan National Tourism Organization, can be a huge help.

Don’t Worry: Malaysia

Malaysia’s medical tourism industry is booming, and the Malaysian government is behind it. The Ministry of Finance actually has its own agency, the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), charged with getting medical tourists into the country and getting them great, affordable healthcare that they’ll write home about. English is also an official language of Malaysia, making it very easy to communicate with local doctors, and the quality of care and facilities is excellent, particularly by regional standards. But while there’s a big push to get people who are already in need of healthcare into the country, what about those who fall ill while on vacation? While healthcare isn’t free, it won’t set you back too much, even if you don’t have insurance. According to WHO data from 2005, hospital visits in the country peaked at around USD 122 per night; adjust that for inflation and it’s still way cheaper than getting sick in the States.

Our Malaysia Hotel Pick: Four Seasons Resort Langkawi, Malaysia

The Four Seasons Resort Langkawi, Malaysia is an unrivaled luxury property. Luxe Malayan beachfront villas feature lovely wooden designs, outdoor terrazzo bathtubs, verandas, and private pools. The vibe is harmoniously balanced between romantic and family-friendly — there are intimate beach dinners, spa pampering in waterside cabanas, and an adult-only pool. The resort is self-contained with restaurants, bars, pools, and a private beach. Some say sunshine is the best medicine of all.

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